A Walk in the Woods

I knew it had been a while since I last wrote about our nearby natural preserves, but I was surprised to learn just how long ago that was: back in February of 2014. I have hiked through them since, but haven’t written about them lately. This week, I’m rectifying that oversight.

Because many of our parks and preserves don’t change very often, my previous post, Hiking Redwood City, remains accurate and full of valuable information for those who want to spend time in a more natural setting. That post touched on Stulsaft Park, Edgewood County Park, and Pulgas Ridge, but dwelt primarily on Eaton Park and its sister park, Big Canyon Park. I thought I had written more about Edgewood and Pulgas Ridge than I actually had, but upon reflection I realize that I gave them short shrift. Accordingly, this week I took a long hike up to and through Edgewood Park, and a second through the somewhat smaller Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve.

If you’ve ever driven along Edgewood Road to or from Highway 280, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the main entrance to Edgewood County Park and Nature Preserve. If you haven’t gone in, though, you should: it’s a beautiful place with miles of well-marked and well-maintained trails that wind through woodlands and grasslands that, in the spring, become fields of wildflowers. Walk quietly and carefully and you’ll likely see wildlife, from birds and lizards to rabbits and deer. Theoretically you could even see a rattlesnake or mountain lion, although the odds are quite low.

Edgewood Park is huge, at 467 acres, and yet is easily accessible to Redwood City residents. It lies partly within the city limits and partly within the county, and is bordered in part by Edgewood Road, Highway 280, and Cañada Road—making it easy to get to.

There is an entrance up in Emerald Hills, at the corner of Hillcrest Way and Sunset Way. There is no dedicated parking at this Sunset Trailhead, though—only neighborhood street parking. Because I’m willing to make the walk, and don’t have to concern myself with parking, I use that entrance a lot. If you are driving to the park, however, you may prefer one of the others. The main entrance on Edgewood Road is near to where Crestview Drive meets Edgewood (but on the south side of the street). There is a fair amount of parking here, especially when you include the “spillover” parking along Edgewood Road near the entrance. Another option is to park near the intersection of Edgewood Road and Cañada Road, and enter via the Edgewood Trailhead. Or, follow Cañada Road towards Woodside, and, after it passes under Highway 280, watch for the Clarkia Trailhead and its associated parking. Last but not least, if you live in or near downtown, or just prefer to park there, the County runs a free shuttle bus that goes from the Redwood City Transit Center to Edgewood Park on weekends; see https://parks.smcgov.org/ParkShuttle for more information, including the bus schedule.

At the main park entrance you’ll find a grass area with some picnic benches, restrooms (these are the only restrooms in the entire park), and the Bill and Jean Lane Education Center. The Center, which is only open on weekends and on Wednesday mornings, has exhibits that portray the park’s “rare and interesting life forms, fascinating soils, and mosaic of plant communities and wildlife habitats.” The Center is also the starting point for docent-led nature walks that are held on the third Saturday of each month, beginning at 10:00 a.m. (weather permitting). If you, like me, enjoy the sights but want to know more about what you are seeing, these walks can be just the thing.

The other park entrances are no more than trailheads, although they do have clearly marked signs that direct you to other trails and to the main park entrance. At the park’s main entrance, as well as at the Sunset Trailhead and Edgewood Trailhead (after you cross the official park boundary), you’ll find information kiosks that include paper park maps (find an online map here). And whenever a trail meets up with another, you’ll find a really informative signpost like this:

The park’s many trails may appear to be a bit of a maze, but these helpful signposts make it nearly impossible to get lost.

Edgewood County Park and Natural Preserve is not only a beautiful and interesting place to explore (but stay on the paths!), it is a great place to get some exercise. From the main entrance it is all uphill, at least until you reach the park’s grasslands. There you can walk for miles without significant elevation changes, or you can choose to continue climbing higher, to one of the park’s vista points or to the Sunset Trailhead, which is about 550 feet higher in elevation than the main entrance.

The lower parts of the park are heavily forested:

Soon, however, you emerge from the trees onto rolling plains of grasses and wildflowers. Wherever you are in the park, be alert for interesting wildlife. These guys (there were about six of them) seemed quite tame; as long as I moved slowly and quietly they paid me little attention:

To protect the wildlife—this is a Natural Preserve, after all—dogs are not allowed in Edgewood County Park. However, if you are looking for a place like this to share with your dog, just across Edgewood Road you’ll find the Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve, which is not only similar to Edgewood in many ways, it is very dog friendly.

Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve, which is located just north of Edgewood Park, is 366 acres in size. Our four-legged friends are welcome on all of the Preserve’s six miles of trails, as long as they are on a leash. And within the 17.5-acre off-leash area—which is located less than half a mile from the parking lot—they are of course welcome to roam free.

To get to Pulgas Ridge from Redwood City, head up Edgewood Road in the direction of Highway 280. When you reach Crestview Drive, turn right, and then take the very first left, onto Edmonds Road. If you see signs for Cordilleras Center and/or Canyon Oaks Youth Center, you are heading in the right direction: they are both farther down the road from the Open Space Preserve. Continue just past the chain-link gates that seem to be the entrance to the Preserve (but aren’t): the parking lot, and the actual entrance, is just a bit farther along.

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If this lot is full, note that there is additional off-street parking just across Edmonds Road.

Pulgas Ridge, being an Open Space Preserve, has fewer amenities than Edgewood Park. There is a single bathroom in the parking lot, and three or four seating benches along the trails, but no drinking fountains or picnic benches. You will find an information kiosk in the parking lot by the trailhead that should be stocked with paper trail maps (an electronic version can be found here).

Pulgas Ridge sits on land that used to be home to the Hassler Health Farm. When it opened in 1927, the then-named San Francisco Health Farm, which was administered by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, sequestered tuberculosis patients well away from major population centers. Fortunately, advances in medicine eliminated the need for separate treatment facilities, so in 1965 the Health Farm became a chronic care hospital for destitute San Franciscans. The facility was permanently closed in 1972, and the facility and grounds were sold to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1983. Two years later the hospital buildings were torn down.

Dog owners heading for the off-leash area will probably want to take the Blue Oak Trail, which begins to the left of the restroom you’ll find in the parking lot. Me, I prefer to head down the trail that begins adjacent to the information kiosk. This short trail takes you across a private road and through a gap in a split-rail fence to the nicely groomed Cordilleras Trail, which leads you deep into the park. Stick to the marked trail: from just past the information kiosk to the end of the 0.3-mile Cordilleras Trail you are on private property. This land is (or was) home to Redwood Center, which is (or was) a “49-bed non-medical primary care residential substance abuse treatment program for men aged 18 and older.”

Given that the buildings are boarded up, I don’t believe that Redwood Center is currently in operation. However, the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct also runs through here, so occasionally vehicles use the road to access the Hetch Hetchy facilities you will note as you head deeper into the Preserve’s main canyon.

After passing the Hetch Hetchy facilities you will finally reach the point where you leave private lands and enter the Preserve itself.

I always head straight into the Preserve at this point, but you can alternatively follow the paved road to the left for an additional 0.2 miles, which will take you to the start of the off-leash dog area. I plunge straight ahead, aiming for the “Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail,” which takes me to the end of a box canyon, which is the highest point in the Preserve (around 800 feet in elevation). Although the first part of the trail is heavily wooded, as you climb you’ll suddenly find yourself out in the open. Up there, on a clear day, you’ll get some breathtaking views. I was there on a somewhat hazy day, but still enjoyed the sights:

As the trail winds along the west side of the canyon, you’ll find yourself right up against the San Carlos Vista Point (which is accessible from Highway 280, just north of Edgewood Road), separated only by a fence. Unfortunately I found no gaps in that fence, and thus no way to get to the vista point on foot. But if you haven’t been there, do pay it a visit some time: from there you can get some nice views of both Filoli (the old William Bourn estate, which is now a National Trust for Historic Preservation property) and the Crystal Springs Reservoir.

Because there are no real facilities (beyond that one bathroom) at Pulgas Ridge, and not much more at Edgewood Park, come prepared. Bring drinking water, and keep an eye out for poison oak, bees (I once encountered a swarm right next to the trail), rattlesnakes, and mountain lions. But also watch for the vistas, wildflowers, and wildlife (I saw rabbits and lizards while I was walking through Pulgas Ridge); they can be really beautiful. Note that cell service is spotty in many parts of both the Park and the Preserve; while I always seemed to have talk and text service, for a good part of both of my hikes I had no data service. Thus, you may want to bring a paper map, or at least download a digital copy of the map to your smartphone so that you don’t have to rely on web access.

If all of the construction going on downtown is getting to you, might I suggest a walk in the woods? Edgewood County Park and Pulgas Ridge (and Eaton/Big Canyon Park and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Stulsaft Park), have the power to transport you far, far away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Redwood City has a lot to offer, and these parks, within the city borders or not, are part of what makes the city such a great place in which to live. So get out and enjoy!

2 thoughts on “A Walk in the Woods

  1. As a child I caught (by hand) Rainbow Trout in Stulstaf Park. Haven’t seen them in 50 years. You can still find a good population of local minows though. Once in a while a Great Blue Heron fishing for them. Look closely and quietly. Thanks Greg…

    • Wow, I can’t imagine Rainbow Trout in that stream that runs through Stulsaft park. I will indeed spend some time down there to see if I can see the minnows, and perhaps a Great Blue Heron; that would be fascinating to see. Thanks for sharing this!

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